According to reports, a vast majority of employees in India are concerned about going back to the office in the absence of the COVID-19 vaccine. According to a recent survey, about 83% of employees in Tier 1, 2, and 3 cities expressed their apprehensions about returning to the office, and a larger proportion of employees said that they preferred to work completely from home.
Infrequent transport, fear of the virus, and the discomfort of commuting during peak hours have put employees in a dilemma. Moreover, many of them are caregivers or parents to young kids. They would quite naturally fear for the safety of their families too in such circumstances.
The biggest challenge for senior leadership at the workplace will be identifying and adopting measures to boost psychological and emotional stability among their workforce as employees begin to return to their workplaces.
There is a growing need for companies to be proactive, strategic, and thoughtful with their HR policies in order to create cultures of certainty, confidence, and safety amid the prevalent chaos and fearful environment.
The question remains: how can HR address employees’ concerns by being flexible and empathetic, and bring about policy changes to earn the trust of their employees?
Strategies for HR to Offer a Solid Support System to the Returning Workforce and Lead with Empathy:
Here are 8 strategies that HR can implement to instil confidence in employees returning to the workplace:
Incorporate Safety Policies
It’s essential to follow public health guidelines and implement measures such as temperature checks, sanitisation, and social distancing in offices. Depending on the nature of your business, you may also need to provide PPE or personal protective equipment to employees and stock enough supplies for day-to-day operations.
It’s also recommended to stagger shifts to minimise overcrowding at peak hours, reconfigure workstations to accommodate social distancing, and control traffic in hallways and other common group areas. Spreading awareness about the need for good personal hygiene by putting up posters and signs at vantage points to remind employees to wear masks is also essential.
Besides, it is good to have in place other safety measures such as frequent cleaning, sanitising stations, and limits on the use of common spaces such as the cafeteria and/or smoke exits.
CommunicateGive proper notice when asking employees to return to the workplace so that they can make the necessary arrangements for childcare, elderly care, and other concerns. Click To Tweet
Offering clear communication is a critical step to instill confidence in your employees. Educate your workforce about all the safety measures you are taking so that they know what to expect. This will dispel any apprehensions and worries they might have. Give proper notice when asking employees to return to the workplace so that they can make the necessary arrangements for childcare, elderly care, and other concerns.
Some employees may be uncomfortable at first with the redesigned office layout, and many may be curious about the new policies and procedures. Others may be nervous about catching the virus from coworkers and spreading it to family members. Worse, some may have unexplainable feelings. To help ease such concerns, send regular email communications to educate your employees about any changes in company policy and the implementation of safety protocols.
Use the Latest Technology
Several tools are emerging in the market to enable businesses to secure and support the returning workforce. These include novel devices such as Bluetooth-enabled, contactless ID badges to log the entries, laser-enabled self-sterilising machines that can be embedded in door handles to sanitise and clean objects before entering the premises, and keychain attachment tools for opening door handles. Invest in the latest technology infrared thermometers to screen employees at the entrance. Innovative solutions like these can ease the transition back to work and boost employee safety.
Be Flexible and Accommodating
After a few months of working from home, employees are likely to have fallen into a home office rhythm. When returning to the office, it might feel intimidating to go back to commuting and have less flexible hours. Employees are bound to feel reluctant to give up remote working.
Therefore to ease the transition, HR can:
- Offer flexible work options where employees are free to work from home for a few extra days each week before coming to the office.
- Allow extended work from home for employees with underlying medical conditions that may put them at greater risk.
- Provide employees facilities like nodal transport, petrol allowance, etc. to get them back to office routine.
- Enable remote working for longer if the job allows it.
- Mandate that all meetings be held via video-conferencing and restrict all non-essential travel.
- Provide mental health training resources and counselling to employees at the worksite.
Build a Culture of Hygiene
It’s essential to teach employees how to behave in a responsible manner around each other and restrict the spread of the virus. This means a shift in social norms like banning handshakes or other close interactions in favour of other greeting mechanisms.
Additionally, HR can utilise company resources to ensure employees’ safety, like providing care packages that include masks, cleansing wipes, hand sanitiser, gloves, tissues, and other items they can use to stay safe. As a result, employees will feel that the organisation is doing everything in its power to prioritise employee well-being and therefore exhibit more commitment to going back to work.
Boost Workplace Morale
For millions of employees, it has been a long time since they physically interacted with their team members and coworkers in the aftermath of lockdown. Some team members may not be returning; a lot of things may have changed in the interim.
Therefore, it’s vital for HR to step in and rebuild workplace morale. HR can enhance workplace culture by promoting achievements, encouraging cross-functional collaboration, and creating a vision for better opportunities for all employees. If the time is right, and regulations permit, consider an onsite fun team-building event to help employees let off some steam and reignite interaction while following social distancing.
Solicit Feedback from Employees
The best approach with any change management initiative is to ask employees what they want and how you can ensure a smooth transition. Since HR’s biggest challenge is strategising through all the unknowns of the pandemic, it is vital to assess employee reaction. You can do this by creating a focus group representing all sections of employees and garnering feedback to know if they are feeling safe and what else they might need to feel safe and productive.
Invest in Employee Mental Wellbeing
As workforces are seesawing between physical and remote workstations, it’s vital to help your workforce cope with the changes in their best interests. Conduct mental wellness programs to help employees continually de-stress and offer counselling sessions if they need a platform to voice their issues. Create a virtual support system to alleviate mixed feelings and reinforce belonging among teams. You can also develop online forums where coworkers can connect and share tips on coping with the new normal and create a sense of community.
The above are some strategies HR can consider to ensure that employees have a smooth transition to working from the office once again. After all, employees are likely to value working for an organisation that is in control, considers the issues faced by them with empathy, and works hard to steer them toward collective success.